In today’s world, what sets extraordinary leaders apart is their willingness to be vulnerable, weaving authenticity into their narratives. In this live, we had Jacob Morgan, a thought leader at the intersection of leadership and the future of work in conversation with Gatik Chaujer, a Storytelling Coach and Co-Founder, TransforMe Learning together unveil the secrets to becoming a master storyteller through vulnerability.

In this session, we discovered
. How vulnerability can transform your storytelling from ordinary to extraordinary
• Real-life examples of leaders who have harnessed vulnerability to inspire and connect with their teams
• Practical strategies to incorporate vulnerability into your leadership narrative, fostering trust and engagement
• A sneak peek into Jacob Morgan’s upcoming book, Leading with Vulnerability offering a preview of the groundbreaking insights he’s poised to share.


1.Vulnerability is often confused with leadership. For instance, Hollis Harris, former CEO of Continental Airlines, was fired due to a lack of leadership when he sent a vulnerable memo during tough times. In contrast, Fleetwood Grobler, CEO of Sasol, combined vulnerability with leadership, resulting in a successful turnaround.

2. Storytelling is essential in vulnerable leadership to establish connections and communicate effectively. It’s a pivotal tool for connecting with people, sharing personal anecdotes, and conveying lessons learned.

3. Vulnerable leadership faces challenges, including the fear of vulnerability being used against leaders. Jacob Morgan advises combining vulnerability with leadership to dispel misconceptions and show a commitment to growth.

4. Effective speaking involves mastering storytelling, as every expression of vulnerability is woven into a narrative. How you express and structure narratives is integral to leading with vulnerability.

5. Embrace the Vulnerable Leader Equation, Vulnerability Mountain Framework, and the Vulnerability Wheel as foundational practices for integrating vulnerability and leadership.

6. Oversharing often happens when individuals lack clarity of intention. To avoid this, ask yourself why you want to share something and ensure your communication is defined and purposeful.

7. The primary obstacle to vulnerability is often internal, driven by the fear of negative perceptions. Combining leadership with vulnerability and fostering motivation is crucial to drive active learning, growth, and improvement.


Gatik Chaujer: First of all, as we get started, what led you to the place you’re focusing on these three areas – leadership, future and work and employee experience?

Jacob Morgan : My family’s journey began in the former USSR, with roots in the Republic of Georgia. Fleeing in the late ’70s, they moved to Italy, where my parents met. From there, we migrated to Australia, where I was born in Melbourne, eventually settling in the United States. Despite my mom’s emphasis on emotional openness, my dad’s influence led me to avoid vulnerability, shunning discussions about mistakes or failures.

My professional journey took a turn due to disappointing jobs, notably one in Los Angeles for a tech company. Promised exciting work and travel, I ended up stuck in mundane tasks. A defining moment occurred when the CEO asked me to fetch coffee. That experience, 15 years ago, marked the end of my full-time employment under others. It propelled me towards my current focus: creating organizations with engaged employees, fostering future-ready structures, and cultivating great leadership.

Gatik Chaujer : Jacob would love to hear your views on vulnerability and leadership and what’s changing, and I know you have this distinct difference that you talk about and being vulnerable and being a vulnerable leader, I love that example about the Continental Airlines CEO that you speak about. So can you talk to us a little bit about your perspective on vulnerability and leadership?

Jacob Morgan : Vulnerability and leading with vulnerability are often confused. A case in point is the story of Hollis Harris, former CEO of Continental Airlines, who, in the ’90s, sent a vulnerable memo to his workforce during the company’s struggles. However, lacking leadership, he was fired the next day. In contrast, Fleetwood Grobler, CEO of Sasol, faced a similar situation with a heavily indebted company. He, too, acknowledged challenges in a town hall but added the leadership element. He shared his vision, expressed confidence in the team, and invited collaboration to achieve success. This combination of vulnerability and leadership turned the company around.

A practical example is handling mistakes. Merely admitting fault is vulnerable, but to lead with vulnerability, one must also demonstrate the ability to learn and improve. This blend of vulnerability and leadership forms the “vulnerable leader equation”: Vulnerability + Leadership = Leading with Vulnerability. Often, the focus is solely on vulnerability, neglecting the crucial leadership component.

Gatik Chaujer : As you shared those stories, I couldn’t help but recall another favorite of mine—the Stephen Elop Nokia saga in 2011, the “burning platform” story. Your ability to connect vulnerability and leadership in communication resonates deeply. It’s not just about admitting what went wrong; it’s about setting a direction, discussing what comes next, and demonstrating continued leadership.
Now, shifting gears to storytelling and vulnerability, your experience in coaching and training for over a decade mirrors the evolving landscape. A decade ago, discussing vulnerability and authenticity in storytelling was a tough sell. Success stories took precedence, and vulnerability had its share of stigmas. Today, there’s a noticeable shift, and a significant part of our work involves helping individuals and organizations embrace vulnerability in their narratives.

So what role does storytelling play in vulnerable leadership?

Jacob Morgan – Well, I think it’s a pretty big part because part of being vulnerable is to connect with people.Storytelling holds significant importance in leading with vulnerability. Vulnerability inherently involves connecting with people, and storytelling serves as a pivotal means of establishing that connection. Whether sharing personal anecdotes, lessons learned, or challenges being faced and conquered, storytelling plays a central role in the vulnerability narrative. The way you communicate these stories, how they are presented, is crucial. In my book, I outline various personal attributes and traits necessary for leading with vulnerability. Among these, storytelling stands out as a crucial element—a connecting tissue that binds the narrative and contributes to the authenticity and connection derived from vulnerability. It’s a key aspect of the overall process.

Gatik Chaujer:
Absolutely. Vulnerable leadership revolves around connecting, communicating, and expressing authenticity. There’s a continuous need to bring in more vulnerability and learn to share stories and messages authentically. However, even today, Jacob, there’s a lingering challenge around vulnerability. Many leaders aren’t entirely comfortable with it. It’s not something that excites people because showing vulnerabilities might be perceived as revealing a “bad side” or looking uncomfortable. The hesitancy around vulnerability remains a challenge for many leaders. I’m sure you’ve got some research and some great experiences with some CEOs that you may have coached around, what are some misconceptions around being vulnerable that leaders have? And how have you shifted that for them? And what difference are they seeing? Leaders have these fears and misconceptions about being vulnerable? What are those? And what does your research tell you about how people can really be more powerful by being vulnerable?

Jacob Morgan – The first misconception is the fear that vulnerability will be used against you. While it’s true that it may happen occasionally, research on trust games suggests that people are more trustworthy than often perceived. On average, the likelihood of trusting someone is around 50%, but in reality, others can be trusted about 80% of the time. Vulnerability will be used against you at some point, but not as frequently as you might think. It’s a part of life, similar to facing rejection when asking for a promotion, a date, or more money. These occasional setbacks shouldn’t deter you from being vulnerable.

The second misconception, revealed through surveying 14,000 employees, is the fear of being perceived as weak or incompetent when showing vulnerability at work. The solution lies within this concern. To prevent this perception, it’s crucial to combine vulnerability with leadership. It’s not just about saying you made a mistake; it’s about demonstrating what you’ve learned. It’s not merely asking for help; it’s outlining how you’ll address the issue independently in the future. Leadership, coupled with vulnerability, is the key. By showcasing competence alongside vulnerability, you bridge the gap and show a commitment to improvement, dispelling the notion of incompetence.

Gatik Chaujer :
Absolutely, Jacob. Your point about not letting the fear of vulnerability hold you back resonates. In today’s transactional world, there’s a crucial need for leaders to shift toward more authentic relationships. Storytelling becomes a key tool for building these genuine connections.

I love your parallel with “failing fast” in tech organizations. Why aren’t we applying this concept to relationships? Starting with transparency and vulnerability can help identify what’s working and what’s not quickly. How do you see vulnerability, transparency, and “failing fast” intersecting in building effective relationships?

Jacob Morgan :
Absolutely, Jacob. “Failing fast” is not just about the failure itself but also about the crucial step of learning from it. Simply failing fast might not be beneficial unless you take stock of what you’ve learned. In stories from CEOs, I’ve heard instances where vulnerability was used against them. The key is the choice they made afterward—they could have chosen to never be vulnerable again, or they took a step back to reflect on what they learned about themselves, the situation, and the other person. It’s about moving forward with the valuable lessons gained and applying them to future interactions and relationships.

Gatik Chaujer : Absolutely, Jacob. It’s not just about being vulnerable; it’s about embracing vulnerable leadership. The essence lies not just in failing fast but in failing fast and then taking actionable steps based on what you’ve learned. That integration of vulnerability and leadership is powerful.

Now, Jacob, given your extensive experience interviewing and coaching numerous CEOs and leaders, do you observe a common pattern among successful leaders who effectively use storytelling? Have you found that those who excel at being powerful leaders often leverage storytelling as a tool to connect, be vulnerable, and demonstrate leadership?

Jacob Morgan : Absolutely. Speaking inherently involves storytelling. Every time you share something about yourself or express vulnerability, it’s embedded in a narrative. Mastering the skill of storytelling is crucial for controlling the narrative of your story. Many leaders I’ve interviewed emphasize the importance of storytelling in connecting with others and framing discussions effectively. It’s impossible to navigate leadership, especially with vulnerability, without the art of storytelling—how you express things and structure your narratives is integral to leading with vulnerability.

Gatik Chaujer:
Absolutely, Jacob. It’s fascinating to hear about your insights, especially with your wealth of experience in coaching and interviewing various CEOs. I appreciate the connection you’ve drawn between leadership and storytelling—it’s indeed integral to navigate vulnerability in leadership effectively.
On another note, your upcoming book, “Leading with Vulnerability,” sounds compelling, and I’m sure our viewers will be interested. We’ll share the link for preordering in the comments. Also, your earlier work on employee experience, as seen in “Employee Experience Advantage,” speaks to a crucial aspect of organizational success. The recent Gallup survey underlines the hefty cost of employee disengagement.

Given this, how do you see leading with vulnerability impacting employee engagement and motivation within organizations? If you have any stories or examples from your experiences working with companies or clients that illustrate this shift, it would be fantastic to hear about them.

Jacob Morgan:
Absolutely, leading with vulnerability significantly impacts employee engagement. It creates connection, builds trust, and allows employees to bring their whole selves to work. Julie Golden, the executive chairman of CGI, noted increased engagement anecdotally through their focus on vulnerability. Leading with vulnerability is a key factor in fostering a human-centric workplace, contributing to a positive employee experience and engagement.

Gatik Chaujer :Both stories of success and stories of failure have their place in leadership. Sharing stories of success can inspire and motivate, while stories of failure add authenticity and relatability. However, the key is not just in telling the story but in providing the steps taken and lessons learned. The combination of vulnerability, storytelling, and leadership is crucial for creating a meaningful impact on employees and fostering a positive workplace culture. As long as you’re not just talking about failure, you’re talking about the steps after? What do you think about stories of success versus stories of failure? From a leader perspective?

Jacob Morgan :
Absolutely, you need both. Having only stories of failure might raise questions about competence, while solely focusing on success may come across as arrogant. Balancing stories of failure and success is essential. Both offer valuable lessons, and everyone has experienced both sides. It’s crucial to acknowledge and share both aspects of your journey for a more authentic and relatable leadership approach.

Gatik Chaujer:
Absolutely, finding that balance is crucial. It’s natural to want to highlight successes, but authentic leadership involves sharing the whole picture, including failures and the valuable lessons learned. It’s in that balance that leaders can truly connect with their teams and build trust. So for leaders watching this, what would be your top three messages, top three tips? What would those three things be that you’d like to share with them?

Jacob Morgan:
Absolutely,Practice the Vulnerable Leader Equation: In everything I do, I aim to integrate both vulnerability and leadership when appropriate. In any situation with vulnerability, I ask myself, “Where can I also sprinkle in leadership?”

Vulnerability Mountain Framework: I follow the concept of the Vulnerability Mountain. I identify the scariest thing I could do (the top) and something I can do easily today (the base). I take steps each day, week, and month to climb from base camp to the peak, gradually improving and experimenting.

Use the Vulnerability Wheel: I created a tool called the Vulnerability Wheel. At its center is intention. I make sure not to share or do anything without a clear purpose. It prevents turning engagements into therapy sessions, which isn’t suitable for a workplace setting. I always ask myself, “Why am I doing this? Why am I sharing this?”

These are foundational practices I recommend starting with.

Gatik Chaujer : I also know that some of our viewers are from the HR or learning and development community, Jacob, in organisations, they had manage HR learning and development. I know a lot of our viewers are from that, from that space. And for those of them watching this, who are keen and who get it, they want to create a culture of vulnerable leadership, they want to create a culture of sharing, they want to create a culture of authenticity. But they may be trying to figure out what’s the best way to go about doing it. Any advice, any tips for HR and learning leaders on how they can start building a culture of vulnerability within the organization?

Jacob Morgan : Absolutely, you lead by example. It starts with you, right? I mean, you can’t tell other people to do it, you have to lead by example. If you do it, other people will do it as well. So if I were an HR leader, I would probably start practising it myself, I would start having conversations with other leaders inside the team in the organisation about what leading with vulnerability means and how to practice it and implement it, I would start teaching it to other people, at the very least introduce the language to your team in your organisation so that they’re familiar with what it is. But by far, the best piece of advice is, if you want other people to emulate the behaviour, you gotta start doing the behaviour yourself.

Gatik Chaujer : We’ve got a few questions coming up there, Jacob, what can we do to get sharper on our storytelling with vulnerability skills because she says there’s a thin line between storytelling and oversharing. So how can we kind of sharpen that? What can we do?

Jacob Morgan : Yeah, I mean, you can definitely overshare. And we all know people who overshare at work and in our personal lives. And the reason why those people overshare is because they forget to focus on the intention. Usually, when people know why they’re sharing or doing something, they tend to be very clear about what it is that they’re sharing, and why it is that they’re sharing it. And oftentimes, when you are engaging and interacting with somebody who’s just talking nonstop, and they’re just sharing everything and talking about anything, that’s somebody who has no idea why they’re doing it to begin with, they’re just doing it. And so the simplest answer to that question is take a step back and say, what is it that I want to share? And why is it that I want to share it? Once you answer those two things, then you’ll find that whatever comes out of your mouth after that, or whatever you do after that is going to be much more clear, much more defined, much more targeted, and it’s going to create a little bit of a self-censor, so that you don’t just, you know, start blabbing about everything in anything.

Gatik Chaujer:
Another Question is – what are the impairment impediments to being vulnerable and taking action? And is there an example that you could share?

Jacob Morgan – The biggest impediment to being vulnerable is often yourself. Fear of how others perceive you, particularly as weak or incompetent, can hold you back. Overcoming this involves adding leadership to your vulnerability and fostering motivation. Motivation is crucial for translating words into actions, ensuring you actively learn, grow, and improve. So, the primary obstacle is internal, and cultivating motivation is key.

Gatik Chaujer :Thank you so much for making time to come in on The Leaders’ Cafe.
We will be out with the details of the next Leaders Cafe’ shortly. And thank you very much until we meet again, have fun and happy vulnerability. Happy storytelling